Friday, October 4, 2013

Shocktober Review Revisited: Much Ado About Martyrs

 (2013 update: So I've seen Martyrs two more times since I reviewed this, removed from the Hostels and Saws and in its context alongside High Tension, Them, and Inside, and if you're looking at the film through the spectrum of the French New Wave Extreme Horror, I can understand why the torture is there. It's not meant to shock in the same way that a Saw film is. It's more of a natural progression in the dehumanizing of our replacement protagonist leading up to that final shot... yeesh. That final shot...)

With no less than four people telling me I needed to see Martyrs, it was inevitable that the Cap'n would get on top of that. I've had a reasonably good run with horror from the other side of the pond lately (Let the Right One In, Them, Frontier(s), even High Tension), and many of you were talking Martyrs up big time. I understand why, although I'm not positive I can really go whole hog with you.

In the interest of not spoiling a movie I think other people will really enjoy, I'm going to tread verrrrry carefully with Martyrs. What you've been told the film is about (or, at least, what I'd heard) is not exactly the case. It's not a "twist", per se, but rather a limited amount of information about the plot. Martyrs is technically a film about revenge, but that's only part of what's going on.

My problem with the movie, chiefly, is that the "torture" aspect of the movie, something which is regrettably a spoiler, was a little "been there, done that" for me. I've seen both Hostel movies. I've seen Saw. I've seen Funny Games, and therefore my problem with the movie was a case of desensetizing. A crucial section of the film which needs to be disturbing and needs to be shocking was, to me, boring. I wanted the movie to get on with wherever it was going.

What I will agree with those of you who championed Martyrs is that I would have never guessed where the ending was headed. Honestly. Two things happened that I did not expect at all, and combined they elevated Martyrs into lofty territory. The ending sticks with you, and in the three days since I watched it, the last fifteen minutes or so will periodically reappear in my mind and I have to play it out again.

That, in and of itself, is worth seeing the film for. Figuring out exactly what the title means, beyond the point where you think they've spelled it out, and the way its meaning unfolds in those final moments, or even in the last shot, make Martyrs worth seeing.

For me, it wasn't that the film was trying too hard to push boundaries or going for "shock", but more that by the time it actually gets where its going, I had mentally checked out. I thought I knew what kind of movie I was watching, and to be honest with you, I've been there and done that. The stories either go the Funny Games direction (the hero dies) or the Hostel direction (the hero exacts bloody retribution).

Martyrs doesn't play by those rules, but if you're really attuned to story archetypes, the third act is going to bore you a little bit. Or it did me. The end makes up for it, and balances out the first, more transparent act. So yes, I can see why so many folks are recommending Martyrs, and why director Pascal Laugier implores you to come into the film "knowing as little as possible". Alas, my enthusiam was a bit tempered, but I still say check Martyrs out.

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